REFLECTIONS: The South
The Continuing Plot to Kill Social Security

Recession Practicalities

category_bug_journal2.gif I have been unable to work up a proper interest in serious issues - of which there are so many - since the Senate passed their health care reform proposal on Christmas Eve. Is it winter doldrums, perhaps? A break from information overload? Or maybe after months of closely following Congress on health care and a long weekend of hysterical finger-pointing over a bomb that fizzled, I'm fed up with lawmakers, pundits and news in general.

With the start of a new year and the new beginnings we imagine for ourselves when the calendar turns, my thoughts have been on practical issues over which I can have at least some personal control.

There is a commercial running on television referring to that terrific little oomph you get when you've found a new way to save some money. Since I don't remember the product being advertised, it's not an effective commercial (I suspect it is Target or Walmart), but I am familiar with that rush of self-satisfaction when I've saved a few dollars.

Last month, I received a letter from the local power company reducing my equal monthly payments by just over 14 percent. Woo-hoo. Okay, it amounts to only about $100 a year, but it's $100 I didn't have before and with the savings that continue from the weatherizing and other minor fixes I made myself last year at little expense, my electric bill is down now by a third since the winter of 2007/08. I am quite pleased with myself.

Most of that savings is from having permanently turned off the six-foot baseboard heater in my laundry/storage room in winter, using a small space heater instead and being hyper-vigilant about turning it on only when the room temperature sinks to 45 degrees F.

Perhaps the CFL bulbs have helped too. That's not to say I like them; actually, I despise CFLs. It's hard to read by them, the light is unattractive and the equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent bulb does not give off nearly as much light.

LEDs may improve lighting and still be green, but it appears there is a long time to go before they are commercially available and affordable.

In regard to the bigger picture, being green in these small ways can seem to be futile. After all, how much difference could my light bulbs make in reducing carbon emissions? So I choose to believe that if each of us does a few little things to help, it adds up for the betterment of life on planet Earth. (That's when I'm having a good day, not to be confused with every day.)

Trying to be greener is a never-ending learning experience - or, in the case of us old folks, re-learning the ways of our parents in our childhoods. My mother was careful about heating. When I complained of being cold, she told me to put on a sweater and it works just as well now as it did 60 years ago.

This winter, I've reduced the daytime thermostat to 65 degrees from 67 last winter. That's not teeshirt comfortable but with the addition of a sweater, I can't tell the difference from a fine day in June. My fuel oil company tells me that just a two-degree temperature reduction will save – well, I've forgotten, but it is a nice chunk of change in the fuel bill and I'll see how much I've saved or not come spring.

A few days ago, I came across a remarkable little website called AltUse – alternative uses for everyday products. A sampling:

• Hairspray will remove ink stains from hard surfaces. It's also good for stopping the itch of mosquito bites.

• Toothpaste will remove scratches that cause old CDs to skip. It too will stop mosquito bites from itching.

• Rubbing with a cloth dipped in white vinegar will clean stains off non-stick cookware.

• An abrasive cloth dipped in Coca-Cola will remove most rust stains.

• Vodka will clean grout and kill mold.

In fact, there are 13 uses (in addition to drinking) listed for vodka, 16 for toothpaste that do not involve teeth and a whopping 60 for vinegar.

Few of these are new ideas and in perusing the website, I found myself frequently thinking, “I know that; my mother did these things.” But the point is, I haven't used most of them and the site is a good reminder to do so, along with being a reference to consult.

The suggestions are the collective wisdom of readers who send in alternative uses for ordinary products. A few are are just silly – making a handbag from Venetian blind slats and weaving plastic shopping bags into storage containers – but well, to each his own. There is a rating system for the alternative uses that ranges from five stars to “did not work” but it's not much in use yet.

The site is a little rough around the edges visually and could use a navigation upgrade, but there is value. In addition to helping out individuals and the planet, the site owners (one is currently an assistant public defender in Cook County, Illinois) are both former marketers who say they believe all products should have at least ten alternative uses.

“AltUse.com,” they write, “offers a catalyst for change in the business world by challenging the notion of marketing products for one specific purpose. We seek to increase manufacturing efficiency and product quality, while cutting down on unnecessary waste.”

What's your favorite alternative use for a product we are all likely to have in a cupboard?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Goodman: The Last Dance

Comments

Congratulations, Ronni. You seem to be doing really well in helping to save humanity. (No, I'm pretty sure that we're not really saving the earth. It will be here, regardless. We are making the planet habitable to humans and the things that make our lives worth living.)

Alternate use: Alcohol-based hand sanitizers also remove most inks (including, to some extent, the permanent markers - to a greater extent with more time and effort) from hard/semi-hard surfaces. Probably, more of us have hand sanitizers on hand these days than have hair spray (do they still sell hair spray?)

Thanks for the reminders of ways to make do and for the link.

Thanks for the link, Ronni.

Plain ordinary bar soap also stops the itching from mosquito bites, albeit only for a while.

I am suffering from information overload and feeling helpless my ability to change anything. I am trying to take a break from depressing news (there is so much of it) and I need to recharge my batteries before taking on another soap box issue.

Maybe it's because it's a new year or the realization that my rants on health care reform have done nothing to move this country forward into the 21st Century on health care.

My favorite alternative use for a product is 1 cup of baking soda poured down a drain followed by 1 cup of hot white vinegar to keep drains open.

I love this look at ideas that we grew up with and have forgotten. I don't have an energy saving one other than the ones you mentioned. I do though have uses for vinegar. It makes a good rinse after shampooing hair to get all the soap out. A bit of vinegar in a glass of water does the trick. Since I live with hard, well water, it's a big benefit for me. Yes, it smells a bit like a salad afterward (which I personally don't mind and it fades fast) unless you follow up with some conditioner.

When getting ready to put on a piece of silver jewelry in the morning and find that it surely needs a good polish, I just reach for the toothpaste and the job is done.

Searched high and low and I believe I am the first to suggest this wonderful alternative use that is both hand saving and empowering:

Wooden spoons.

You might ask, what the heck could you do with a wooden spoon other than the obvious "stir"? How is that soothing or empowering?

It is an age old kitchen secret passed down several generations in my family. Works wonders for both the young and the old.

Applied with a smart pop to the behind produces instant relief from a whiny or misbehaving youngster. Likewise, it works in a similar fashion as a whack to the back of the hand on those pesky kitchen lurkers who want to stick their fingers in every pot for just a quick taste.

That old wooden spoon is secretly endowed with magical powers...why, just the sight of Mama reaching for the old standby hanging near the stove is often times all that is needed to set right an overcrowded kitchen.

New mothers today who have been hoodwinked into thinking a "time out corner" is much more humane and civilized would be amazed at how powerful she can become with a mere pedestrian kitchen staple.

She is instantly transformed into Queen of the Realm who fairly and masterfully wields her scepter upon those who will not behave!

Ta da!

Hurray for little things. Those are what we can actually DO something about. Big issues are so intractable. Big things are hard to move.

Thanks for the link, Ronni. What a great resource! I have bookmarked it.

I'm a big fan of Mrs. Wright's Bluing (yeah! They still sell the stuff only it is now, sadly, in a plastic container and not the lovely apothecary inspired bottle I remember from childhood). I use it on my hair to brighten the gray but there are a lot of other uses, too. I'm hoping I can re-train myself into using these fabulous common multi-purpose products through the new year. Terrific!

I don't want to start an uproar over 'smart pops' and 'whacks' with wooden spoons; suffice it to say it is never alright to hit anyone, with or without a wooden spoon!
Much better uses of the aforesaid spoon? The obvious and previously stated: stirring. But also: for the short person, as an extension of one's hand to gently ease an item off a shelf like a bag of sugar or a box of pasta; or using the end to slip those elusive items out that fall between the cabinetry and refrigerator; or setting it over a deep bowl, draped with candle wicks which you've dipped into wax; or use as a plant stake for that overgrown houseplant. And the best of all? Let the little ones use it as a drumstick on your pots and pans! :)

JDW - I don't think my tribe has suffered overmuch by the use of my scepter.

I remember my mom telling me that when I was a toddler, I fell into a red ant bed. She was beside herself trying to get my diaper off and brush the ants off, with whelps rapidly covering my behind.

The next door neighbor's grandfather (who lived with them) chewed tobacco. Per his usual habit of porch-sitting, he saw the commotion and calmly walked over to me and spat out a wad of tobacco and smeared it on my legs and bottom.

My mom was initially horrified and didn't know what to say, but the old gentleman told her the tobacco would draw out the venom from the antbites.

She still took me in the house and plopped me in a bathtub to be sure all the ants came off, and to wash off the tobacco, LOL.

Mom did say the whelps went down fast, so maybe there is some truth to the old "wives tale" of using tobacco as a poultice.

I don't think I'll take up the t'backy habit anyway...

Vinigar mixed with water in a spray bottle to deodorize when Buddy has an accident on the floor or carpet. Toothepaste to clean my Rolex watch band, baking soda to deodorize fridge and to wash combs and brushes. Coke to clean toilet bowl.

I used to pay about $4.50 for a can of fixative from office or artist supply stores so that I could spray a light coating on those pages from my printer which would be handled a lot and as a result have the ink smeared. Now I use a 69-cent can of cheap hair spray to accomplish the same results.

I started doing this after I saw a young artist sketching people's portraits in chalk at a mall. After she completed a sketch, she grabbed a can of hairspray and sprayed a light coating on the sketch to prevent smears from people handling it. When I asked why she used hairspray instead of a fixative, she said that she used to use a fixative but found that hairspray did the job just as well and was much cheaper. And for a struggling young artist, cutting costs is important.

I use an old computer as a back-up hard drive. She says grinning and knowing that's not what you meant. How about the old one, Mayonaise will remove white rings on furniture. Liberally apply it, and let it sit; reapply if necessary.

We used to use ammonia for bee stings too.

And thank you for this post. I too am tired of the serious world stuff and have retreated to getting over a cold and repeated sinus infections. Sometimes we all have to just back up and clean up our own messes....which I have been doing too.

We are so sick of the virulent political mud-wrestling on TV that passes for news that sometimes we can't stand it anymore and watch anything else, from the Weather Channel to a movie. Other days we just turn it all off and read books.

Some favorite uses of familiar products are:
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer--rubbed onto poison ivy rash, it quickly soothes the itch.
A few squirts of dish detergent, followed by very hot water--to keep a slow drain running.
A tiny bit of salad oil--to loosen those maddening price stickers they apply to the most visible part of the item you buy.
Chopsticks--for a hundred uses around the kitchen. Keep a few on hand.

Hey, it's not easy being green:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpiIWMWWVco

I know what you mean by issue fatigue. Watching the Senate Dems be blackmailed by the likes of Ben Nelson and Holy Joe L. depressed me to no end, especially since Harry Reid played along with them. But, we can't quit and hopefully the new year will reenergize us!

My 'every day' frame of mind varies, like yours, from my 'good days.' I wrote about it, too, awhile back: Shopper's Compassion Fatigue. Fortunately, the good days still outnumber the not-so-good ones and I have faith that our small efforts are worthwhile.

My AltUse suggestion (don't know if it's on their site): use plain yogurt (not the non-fat kind) for a great facial!

I mostly like CFL's. The only drawback I've found is that they are not dimmable. You have to get good brands to get good color, but if you do then the color is better than the horrible yellow of incandescents. if they are not bright enough for you then just go the next size.

I never use harsh chemicals in my house. But I have bigger fish to fry, as they say, than to worry about such things. I have started a committee to educate the public about Corporate Personhood which has resulted in corporations owning congress.

We must return to the days when corporations were allowed to function temporarily until the bridge was built that couldn't be built without corporate funding. Corporations used to serve citizens. Now corporations have all the rights of individual citizens but none of the responsibilities and can influence with big money which overpowers what individual citizens can do.

Let's return our country to the citizens that were meant to be the basis of our so-called free society.
Let's worry about cleaning house in this country and then we can return to worrying about mold in the basement.

VapoRub ointment is my fav. Whenever I have a cut or whatever (in particular on my hands) that would normally take some days under a band-aid to calm down, before bed I put some VapoRub on it then a band-aid and let it be like that overnight. By morning, I can take the band-aid off and leave it off. Love it. Have used that for years.

I've used mayonnaise as a facial- works pretty well.

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